These 50 days from the first of Elul to the end of Sukkot and the celebration of Simchat Torah can be overwhelming for clergy, with so many details and demands. It’s easy to lose focus or be too focused; to help others and forget to open our own hearts. The spiritual tradition of reading Psalm 27 every day is an antidote to these tendencies with its imagery of the season (temple, sukkah, shofar) and its words that evoke a range of emotions (loneliness and fear, joy and courage, the need for patience). It coaches us in the sacred practices we need to do our work (professional and personal) throughout the season: sit still, stand tall, sing, cry, listen, walk in God’s paths, see Goodness, hope. And it reminds us that little by little we make our way into the New Year, with Light.
This Reflection for Focus is one of fifty-two pieces (one for each day of Elul, plus a bonus for Simchat Torah and the day after) included in my book, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year (pages 82–83). It invites focus on the phrase, ori b’yishi, in Psalm 27:1
Adonai is my light and my victory—
From whom should I feel fright?
Adonai is the stronghold of my life—
From whom should I feel terror?
Really?! I ask myself,
read the same poem, Psalm 27, every day
for the entire month of Elul,
for the ten days from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur,
for the four days until Sukkot begins and on every day of it as well
until the season concludes with joy at Simchat Torah?
Start each day with a relentless recitation of the same words?
My Salvation (a more common translation than “victory”)
My God . . . ?
“You are my Light, on Rosh HaShanah,
and my Salvation, on Yom Kippur,
forgiving my sins, redeeming me from the narrow place of my life.”
Little by little, day by day, starting in Elul,
the Light starts to glow,
and I begin the work.
Little by little, day by day, on Rosh HaShanah
the rays peek above the horizon.
“Redemption doesn’t happen all at once.”
Like the sun that rises,
little by little,
until the dawn breaks
and Light floods the world with warmth and hope,
so, too, t’shuvah.
Little by little, day by day.
A tiny shift
a spark of awareness,
a single apology,
and then another.
And one response when asked for forgiveness: “Yes.”
With God as my Light I begin to see on Rosh HaShanah.
With God as my Salvation, and little by little, day by day,
I might experience at-One-ment on Yom Kippur.
You are my Light, on Rosh HaShanah: William G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, vol. 1 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 370 (Psalm 27:4).
Redemption doesn’t happen all at once: From Mishkan Hanefesh, vol. 1, Rosh HaShanah (New York: CCAR Press, 2015), p. 165, based on imagery from Jerusalem Talmud, B’rachot 1:1.
Rabbi Debra J. Robbins has served Temple Emanu-El in Dallas since 1991 and currently works closely with the Social Justice and Adult Jewish Learning Councils, the Pastoral Care department, a variety of Worship initiatives, and teaches classes for adults. She is the author of Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, published by CCAR Press.